The archaeological dig at the site is the first in 62 yeas. The ruins of Lissos are quite remote, which makes regular maintenance and research difficult. The site is only reachable by boat, or via an hours-long hike from the nearby town of Sougia.
“The discovery of a public function building at a central point of the ancient city, and in proximity to the famous temple to Asclepius, adds new data to the archaeological and historical horizon of the area,” says the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports in a statement, per Google Translate.
Leading the excavation was Katerina Tzanakaki, deputy head of the department of prehistoric and classical antiquities and museums at the Ephorate of Antiquities of Chania.
Odeons were once “used for lectures, literary and musical contests or theatrical performances,” Tzanakaki tells LiveScience’s Kristina Killgrove. They were smaller than ancient amphitheaters; they were also often covered by roofs for acoustic reasons, while amphitheaters typically were open-air.
The researchers don’t know for sure what the structure was used for. Tzanakaki says that it could have been a bouleuterion, or a city council building, as it was close to the city center.
The fact that “it was designed and used as a covered theater does not preclude secondary use as a council house,” Jane Francis, a classical archaeologist at Concordia University, and her husband George W. Harrison, a classical archaeologist at Carleton University, tell LiveScience in an email.
Whatever its use, the structure is a rare find, they add. “There aren’t many well-preserved theaters on Crete and even fewer bouleuteria.”
The Ministry of Culture and Sports ordered the new archaeological work in part to repair and preserve Lissos’ other ruins, which were uncovered in the 1950s, per the Greek Reporter’s Tasos Kokkinidis.
The ancient city already boasts an impressive collection of sites. Previous digs in the area uncovered a temple to the Greek god Asclepius, a Greco-Roman cemetery with Byzantine temples, Roman baths and Christian churches.
Lissos was likely an important site along “an important stop on Mediterranean trade routes,” according to LiveScience. Now, the discovery of the odeon provides further evidence that the town was prosperous.
Researchers say a powerful earthquake hit in the fourth century, causing extensive damage to the odeon and other nearby sites.